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COVID-19 killed at least 40 military veterans at VA nursing homes in Pa.

Volunteers help to lay holiday wreaths at graves at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., Saturday Dec. 15, 2018.
Jose Luis Magana
Volunteers help to lay holiday wreaths at graves at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., Saturday Dec. 15, 2018.

Almost one year ago, Congress passed a law requiring the Department of Veterans Affairs to publish data showing COVID-19 cases and deaths at its nursing homes.

The VA has begun to publish those numbers — providing a stark snapshot of how the virus burned through veterans’ homes across the U.S. during the first 15 months of the coronavirus pandemic. Nationwide, 1,498 residents and 54 staff died, according to a Politico analysis.

In Pennsylvania, from May 25, 2020, through August 29, 2021, more than 500 Veterans Affairs workers at six nursing homes got sick with the coronavirus, records show.

More than 300 elderly veterans in their care also contracted COVID-19 — resulting in over 40 deaths among them..

At the Hollidaysburg Veterans Home in Blair County, 157 workers got COVID-19. They each survived, but the same can’t be said for all of the 61 veterans who got sick. Nineteen died.

At the Gino J. Merli Veterans Center in Scranton, the numbers tell a similar story: 65 staff and 68 residents got sick. Eighteen veterans died.

At four other VA nursing homes across the state, the exact number of residents who died in Pennsylvania is not public: Between one and 10 veterans died at each of those homes, but the VA is withholding the exact numbers for privacy reasons.

Questions remain about when the deaths occurred and what precautions staff may have taken as they fell ill with a virus that would soon spread to residents. Nursing home residents make up a significant number of those who died from the virus. Residents were widely vaccinated once vaccines became available in January 2021. The VA did not respond to requests for comment, and the Pennsylvania Department of Health was not immediately available.

By the numbers:

  • Southwestern Veterans’ Center: 76 staff cases; 26 resident cases; 1-10 resident deaths
  • Hollidaysburg Veterans Home: 157 staff cases; 61 resident cases; 19 resident deaths
  • Southeastern Pennsylvania Veterans’ Center: 78 staff cases; 37 resident cases; 1-10 resident deaths
  • Delaware Valley Veterans’ Home: 76 staff cases; 51 resident cases; 1-10 resident deaths
  • Gino J. Merli Veterans’ Center: 65 staff cases; 68 resident cases; 18 resident deaths
  • Pennsylvania Soldiers’ & Sailors’ Home: 65 staff cases; 63 resident cases; 1-10 resident deaths